Countess Anne School

David Thompson

Countess Ann School, now the Church Hall
David Thompson

In 1732, Anne, the 5th Countess of Salisbury, founded a charity school. This was Countess Anne School, which had various locations in Hatfield before moving in the 1870s to the building at the top of Church Street. (This is now used as the Church Hall).

I started school in 1958 at the age of 5 and attended Countess Anne School for 5 years. My first form teacher in the reception class was Mrs Phelps. She was an elderly white-haired lady and directed the class from a high chair. During my time at the school, the headmaster was Mr Tom Padget and his deputy was Mr J Langley.

The school building was more than 100 yrs old and leaked badly during wet weather. I remember the teachers placing buckets at intervals under the sash windows trying to collect the water. The school catered for children between the ages of 5 and 11. In the main school building there were 3 classes. The classes were divided by large wooden partitions that were set on large castors. These could be rolled back to amalgamate one or more classes. This was usually done at Christmas to produce a stage on which the Nativity Play would be performed. One Christmas I had to play a shepherd and sported a splendid home-made crook for the occasion.

I can still remember some of the teaching methods employed. We were seated at tables in groups of six children. Multiplication was achieved by chanting various tables that were written on large cards. These were held up by the teacher and we gradually worked our way from 1- to 12-time’s tables by constant repetition. Spelling was another repetitive process and we used slates and chalks to practice our handwriting.

When you reached Class 2 (in my case during 1960), you had to move to a portable classroom that resembled a shed and which stood in a corner of the playground. Near the entrance of this building stood a coke stove for heating. Despite this, it was very cold in winter time. I remember that at one point the ink froze in the ink wells and we were unable to use our steel-nibbed pens (we resorted to pencils as a temporary measure). This was the first time I can remember sitting at a school desk.

During most terms we had nature walks in Hatfield Park. Back in class, we had a nature table on which we displayed any suitable specimens gathered on our outings. There was a marvellous Horse Chestnut tree right outside the school where many serious conker contests took place during the autumn (Health and Safety regulations would probably not allow this today).

I can vaguely remember playing football on a very small playing field that was separated from the rear playground (now a car park) by a beech hedge. Our changing room was a small space that we shared with the cloakroom at the far end of the school. I was so small at the time that one of the older boys (probably aged 10) had to tie my laces on the heavy boots which had leather studs. They were so heavy I could hardly walk in them never mind run! I do not remember any shower facilities but there was a washing area with a large sink. All the toilets were outside affairs, with hard toilet paper and coal tar soap provided for our comfort.

We had two school breaks; Mid Morning and Lunch. The morning break would include our daily ration of fresh milk. This was 1/3 pt contained in a glass bottle. We drank the milk with the aid of waxed straws. We also had a 20-minute play time. I was told off once for eating Marmite sandwiches too slowly during break time and being late for lessons!

School dinners were provided although I did not always participate. Any waste food from school dinners was collected in bins as pigs swill. This waste was fed to the pigs on the farm that was just inside Hatfield Park at the time.

Most days I would walk with my mother the mile or so home to dinner. After lunch, often accompanied by my Nan, we would catch the 303a bus to the One Bell Public House (long since demolished) and walk back up Church Street to school. We would also walk home and sometimes, if I was good, would visit Mrs Pateman’s shop for some sweets.

As we were a Church School, we always had morning assembly in which prayers were said and hymns sung. During assembly we sat on long forms. The vicar from St Etheldreda’s, Rev John Stowe, attended regularly. One of the advantages of being at a church school was that we had frequent half day holidays for various Saints Days and other religious festivals! My particular favourite was harvest festival when my mum would contribute some home-grown vegetables.

In early 1962, it was decided that the building in Church Street would close and the school would move to its present location in School Lane (off Endymion Road). I was sad to leave the old building as I had many happy memories of my time there. However, the old building was deemed to be no longer suitable for a modern school. I remained at Countess Anne for a further year and finally left in 1963 when my parents moved house and decided that I would change schools. I still retain a great affection for my old school and its associated history.

David Thompson March 6th 2009

This page was added on 17/11/2012.

Comments about this page

  • I also went to Countess Anne in the 1950’s and remember the ‘privilege’ of taking the left overs from school dinner down the hill to St Audrey’s School for the Blind where presumably their kitchen collected the pig swill. It was exciting to be given the responsibility and to get out of the school albeit briefly. One of the ‘dens’ Beryl mentioned once had a wooden bench across it that older children sat on at playtime.

    By Brenda Turner (nee Perrott) (08/04/2018)
  • Yes, I too went to Countess Anne School, but in around 1937.  I remember it so well.  The picture shows our ‘dens’ which we guarded so zealously at play time.  We spent many hours in the cloakroom which was our air-raid shelter when there was an air-raid warning. 

    By Beryl Blanks (nee Crane) (30/08/2014)
  • I went to countess anne school in 1952 and remember Mrs Phelps and Mr Padget. Remeber the 303 and 303a buses. My grandfather Harry Harlow was the blacksmith at bell bar, and my father Tom Harlow managed Holliers grocery shop and cafe. Remember Dick Sherman who was a friend of my dad who managed the dray horse. Great memories.

    By diana hickey (18/08/2013)

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